Monday, July 13, 2020

Vote Shaming

There is something scary about realizing you’ve made a mistake. And the louder, harder, stronger you were in your belief, the more terrifying that realization becomes.

And there’s a reason that it’s terrifying: we’re not forgiving.

Oh, we’re forgiving in the “I kind of forgot what you did” or “I don’t know who you assaulted, so it doesn’t really affect me” sort of way. We do NOT forgive people growing and evolving and changing. We have a wealth of research about how telling people they’re wrong does not help change opinions. But we persist. We’re still trying to shame people into changing their views anyway.

We call it flip-flopping, and the implication is that that changing your opinion means you failed. TWICE.

Who would voluntarily sign up for that? No one, that’s who.

When President Obama’s personal position on gay marriage evolved, the press had a field day. In June of 2015, Hunter Schwarz published an article titled, “Obama and Clinton love to celebrate gay marriage now. Here’s how late they were to the party” for the Washington Post. At one point, Schwarz discusses a tweet from President Obama celebrating marriage equality. Schwarz writes, “What was left unsaid, of course, is that he [is] among those who used to run against same-sex marriage but have since changed their tune.”

It didn’t matter that he was celebrating marriage equality. It mattered that he hadn’t always supported it.

Who would be willing to admit changing their opinion in that environment?

So, a lot of the people who voted one way in 2016 now realize that they made a mistake. There are a lot of people who voted for President Trump because they were afraid. The world they understand is changing, leaving, and they don’t know what their place is in this new one.

The change should be uncomfortable, it should be scary, because if it isn’t scary and uncomfortable for those of us who have benefited from the privilege of our race, then the change won’t be radical on the scale we need. But just like we understand that it is ineffective to scold a child for being afraid, we need to be willing to have compassion for folks who made a choice they now regret.

Because who hasn’t done that?

So, here’s my proposal. If someone tells you that they voted for President Trump, don’t shame them. Everything you want to say probably makes perfect sense and is almost certainly accurate to boot. But that won’t change anyone’s mind.

We need to find a way to make it safe to vote for someone else this time. Our success in getting people to feel comfortable with that vote will depend on how willing we are to accept other people’s mistakes WITHOUT shaming them for it.

If you’re reading this, you almost certainly didn’t vote for the current President of the United States. More than that, you have a laundry list of logical, thoughtful reasons why you believed Secretary Clinton was a better choice than Mr. Trump.

This conversation is not about you (us). It’s about acknowledging the anxiety people feel, it’s about making the decision to be loving, and patient, and kind. It’s about creating room for people who don’t understand what’s happening in the world or their place in it to feel what they need to feel without shame.

Now, let me be very clear about a few things. This is NOT an endorsement of the current President of the United States nor any of the choices he has made during his tenure. This is not an endorsement of people who act on a fear of change by hurting and killing other people. This is not an endorsement of policies that lock up children, force women to continue pregnancies, or violate people’s rights under the guise of “religious freedom.”

This is NOT an institutional argument.

This is an argument about your great uncle. Or your co-worker. Or your dad. There are people who you know and love who are freaking out right now. Their whiteness has been a magic key card that got them anywhere they wanted to go for all of their lives. They were able to work and feed their families without going to college. They knew that their race would only help them secure loan applications, get jobs, gain admission to college, buy a house, and a myriad of other things. Their skin color was only ever an asset.

Now that’s started to change.

We’re having really important conversations about how our whiteness doesn’t entitle us to anything but a small amount of melanin in our skin.

Even harder, they don’t think they’re racist, because they’re not actively hateful. They’ve never called someone a hateful name, they’ve never actively supported the policies of disenfranchisement and segregation, they’ve “never done anything racist.” Privilege and time have conspired to ensure their cultural blindness.

The portrayal of racism in media isn’t always called out when it’s subtle. And lots of people don’t know they need to be looking for it.

Our loved ones can’t hear dog whistles. They don’t even know the dog whistles are blowing.

So, I want to ask us to be thoughtful when having conversations with our loved ones. People aren’t willing to change when they’re backed into a corner, it would fly in the face of thousands of years of evolution. So, when your uncle says, “I think I might vote for Biden,” you have a choice to make. You can make this easy for him, make him feel right and good and smart and compassionate, and growth-oriented. Or, you can make him feel ignorant, selfish, and racist.

And how do I do that? How do I make him feel safe? One idea is to say, “That’s awesome!” and then just stop. If they want to share more, they will. If they want to ask questions, they will. If they’re just changing their vote to be on the right side of history, who are we to complain? The least we can do is let them keep their dignity, it’s a much better way to get people to do what you want.

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